Departments: Pictures of You
How was Nora diagnosed? I was walking behind her one day and noticed that her arms weren't swinging while she was walking. I asked her why and she asked, “Do my arms have to move?” And I thought, “Yeah, they're supposed to move.” It took another two or three years of my daughter and me badgering her to get her to a neurologist. She walked into the neurologist's office, and within minutes he said, “You have Parkinson's disease.” It was so clear to him from the way she moved. Of course he did additional tests to confirm his hunch, but she was diagnosed in 2001.
How has the disease progressed? After her diagnosis, I said, “Well, Nora, at least you have the best of the bad diseases.” Cancer kills you, Parkinson's just shakes you a little. But Nora's case hasn't turned out so well. She has had every possible complication you can get, including Parkinson's– related psychosis and Parkinson's–related dementia.
What are some of her symptoms? She has hallucinations, some of which have been really interesting. She's yelled at plants. She's entered a room and said, “I came to join the party,” and I'd ask, “What party?” There was no party. For years, she saw mailboxes as people. But the hardest part for me to deal with is the dementia. She went from being a really smart person to someone who can't figure out how to change her underwear. She can no longer dress or bathe herself. I do that.
How do you deal with these symptoms? Nora was prescribed a drug that helps with the hallucinations. It has been amazing for her. Within two weeks of being on it, the hallucinations just went away. Over time they came back, but now she recognizes them as hallucinations. When I say, “Nope, nobody was there,” she knows it was a hallucination, and she isn't afraid of it.
What was Nora like before her diagnosis? She was a foreign language teacher. She taught French and German and can still speak four languages fluently. She was born in Holland, so she speaks Dutch. Her parents were German, so she speaks German. Her favorite language is French, so she speaks that. She was the girlfriend my dad liked because she spoke French. And then of course she speaks English. That she can flip from language to language without a problem, even with dementia, is stunning to me.
How do you keep from getting stressed? I don't feel that I'm stressed. I guess it's something in my personality. I have a certain looseness. I just deal in the moment. I also have a sense of humor, and I don't judge. Nora has a disease. She didn't choose this. I know if the situation were reversed, she would do the same thing for me.